Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All the High Roads


Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: The Who, Quadrophenia. A lot harder to love than Tommy, which is one thing I used to admire about it, this double-LP concept album's searching inwardness and grit, what seemed to be its single-minded specificity and cold-eyed grandeur, made it seem more authentic or "true" than the spaced-out, messianic excesses of lovable but shaggy old Tommy. Revisiting this needlessly sprawling work again now, though, I feel almost none of what I once did for it; apart from the high watermark of "I've Had Enough" and the solid pump of "Five Fifteen," it was honestly hard to get all the way through this listen.

Problem is, I don't respond to the themes, in both senses of the word: neither the subject matter, the angsty, small-bore teen drama of clothes and clubs and fitting in, nor the largely uninviting, uninspired melodic motifs. In the case of the first, the specifics of the mod/rocker scene, or of our antihero Jimmy's journey through it, aren't vivid enough to make any images or turns of phrases stick, and Pete Townshend's attempts to generalize those specifics into something larger about identity, purpose, or a larger rebellion only make them sound more banal ("The real me"? "Is it in my head or in my heart"? Really?). Adolescence may be a fertile energy source for rock 'n' roll, but in itself it's not a great subject--particularly not for an album-length "concept."

And in the case of the musical themes, though Townshend has self-consciously woven them throughout, in studied classical form, he's just shuffling around dead weight; so many of the tunes here feel clenched, needly, a little tired (though "Sea and Sand" has a tenderness and an expanse that's uncharacteristic of most of the album). On the plus side, the band's playing is especially good, particularly John Entwistle's insistent bass. But the sound is ultimately cold and clinical, like The Who on autopilot, and those awful, almost ubiquitous synth sounds don't help.

Did I mention that "I've Had Enough" is a great song? It's a little three-act opera of resignation and fury unto itself. And "Five Fifteen" comes closer than anything on the record to converting hormonal horror into substantive drama. The rest is filler.

Comments:
Matt North I know, I know...
Matt North I began reading Pete Townshend's autobio and had to stop. I knew if I read the whole thing my feelings about him and The Who would be lost. Odd when it feels like a hero's skills are demystified
Rob Weinert-Kendt True, though I did really enjoy these interviews (cause it's most about the music): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9Lm8dm5p3I, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K65naclYpL8
Justin Warner I do like "5:15" although never got into the album. I've often wondered how many of the gazillion rockers, almost all adults, some middle aged, who write about adolescent angst actually feel moved by it, and how many are just defaulting to it. I've been shrugging at those kinds of themes since at least my mid twenties.
Joe McDade To me, the album is inseparable from the movie, and the movie is inseperable from how Valley Art on Mill Avenue used to screen it one weekend a year.
Chris Coffman with you
 

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